Category Archives: United Nations

After a “lost decade,” experts call for renewed focus on population growth

Womens Health Clinic - East AfricaBy John Feeney:

To many, it’s obvious population growth is a key factor, arguably the key factor, in environmental degradation and resource depletion, contributing heavily as well to poverty and human conflict. Unfortunately, some environmental groups and writers, and some fighting for social justice, deny or consciously avoid the obvious. Often they realize population growth is a fundamental driver of ecological and social problems, but choose deliberately to avoid the topic. Their reasons vary, but fit generally under the heading, “politics.”

There are, for instance, women’s groups with whose concerns I sympathize, but which have decided the population issue distracts from their work promoting the rights of women. There are environmental writers who carefully skirt the topic of population growth in the belief that the notion of “population control” has become associated with totalitarian or eugenic measures, making any environmentalist who utters the word “population” vulnerable to easy criticism.

In both instances, activists or writers have opted to play politics rather than speaking the truth. (more…)

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Are environmental writers choosing avoidance over truth?

See no evil

It is indisputable that population size and growth are among the fundamental drivers of today’s ecological crisis. There’s no getting around the math that population size multiplies with per capita consumption to determine total resource consumption. Additional links between our numbers and ecological degradation are impossible to dismiss. Once one accounts for population, consumption rates, and corporate economic growth, one is hard pressed to identify any equally powerful contributors to environmental destruction. [1]

What are environmental writers thinking?

You may wonder, therefore, why the topic of population does not appear in nearly all media coverage of environmental problems. The population topic is, in fact, actively avoided by many environmental writers. The history of how it’s become a taboo subject is worth a few future posts, but Grist staff writer, David Roberts, recently summed up the thinking of some current writers. (more…)

No comfort from the UN

UN buildingIt’s not uncommon on the Web or in the popular press to see authors referring to United Nations population projections in arguing population growth isn’t a problem. Blogger Michael Kruse, writing from a particular Christian perspective, suggests the projections mean we will likely top out at a population which is “hardly a catastrophic number.” Writers such as neo-con, Ben Wattenberg, are similarly dismissive of any population problem and go on to fret over possible population declines in Western countries.

Projections, not predictions

Almost three months ago I posted an essay on the UN’s 2004 report, World Population to 2300 (large pdf). In it, I showed that the UN’s population projections are widely misinterpreted as predictions when in fact they are merely illustrative scenarios. That is one reason we cannot take much comfort in the UN’s projections; they don’t even pretend to be predictions we can count on. (more…)

The UN population report: misunderstood and misused

UN Flag

[The follow-up to this essay is here.]

In 2004 the United Nations issued a report titled World Population to 2300. (Large pdf) In it, the demographers who authored the report offer “projections” concerning world population growth through this century and all the way to 2300. The following graph, based on the UN’s, shows the three scenarios or projections for which the report is best known. As you can see, their medium scenario, the one on which most people focus, shows what might appear to be a near peaking of population growth around 2050:

Graph of UN data

I had occasion last year to sit in on a college class in which the students were discussing the issue of world population growth. One student asked the question, “Why should we worry about population growth when the UN says world population will stabilize around 2050?” That’s an important question, and one the student is not alone in having asked. The UN report is cited from time to time by mainstream economists and others who dismiss concern over population growth. (Sometimes those on the far right voice instead a kind of corporate concern about the slowing of population growth in developed countries. That is a topic for a future post.)

Do they have a point? Should we take comfort in UN report? Should we see it as reason to dismiss, at least to some extent, population growth as a serious concern? (more…)